Oh dear, it’s a turnip. What does the French expression “C’est un navet ! ” mean, and what does it have to do with movies? Here’s the comprehensive guide to it! Get it right and take your French to the next level!
It’s a turnip!
It’s a really bad movie.
C’est un film de très mauvaise qualité.
The Story Behind It
Ahh, the much-maligned turnip. How did this well-meaning root crop become the symbol for movies that inspire nothing but disappointment, boredom, and even disgust?
While some people like turnips (like me, for the record), we need only look at the reputation of this wretched root to understand the basis for this equivalence. First of all, peu prisé (unpopular) and fade (bland) are some of the adjectives used to describe this unassuming veg. Shunned by many consumers and championed by few chefs, it’s largely been left out of modern recipes. But let’s not forget its historical record as a star crop… during famines, that is. Humble and hardy, the turnip is what previous generations ate in the absence of better alternatives. In many ways, it’s the unloved, in-every-way-lesser cousin of la patate (the potato). Et patati et patata.
So it’s unsurprising that un navet came to describe something of little value and unworthy of respect. This was the case as early as the 13th century, before 19th-century society began associating turnips with awful, uninspired paintings. With the advent of cinema, aka le septième art (“the Seventh Art”), it then became the familiar and pejorative label for terrible films that were terribly made with terrible actors. And that’s how un navet came to symbolize a bad film with no redeeming features.
Navet vs. Nanar
I say “no redeeming features” because there’s another term for a terrible film with some redeeming features. This kind of film is un nanar.
If you’re familiar with the concept “so bad, it’s good,” then you’ll understand the difference between the two. Un nanar is a film that’s so terrible, it becomes amusing, even funny and charming. The nanar‘s value is in providing silly entertainment, while un navet is unequivocally annoying and a complete letdown.
The key here is the term navet, which can be used in the following ways:
- It’s a flop / turkey.
- It’s a dud.
- C’est un film nul.
- C’est un film raté.
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